Moderation by the numbers: 2-3-4-0

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Alcohol has been scientifically tested 1:44

Where does this numeric expression come from?

Women who want to avoid long-term problems should limit themselves to two drinks a day and 10 a week. For men, the limits are three drinks a day and 15 a week. That’s the 2-3 part of the expression.

Of course, there is no harm in drinking a little more than that every now and then. On a special occasion, for example, women may have three drinks and men, four, provided, of course, that such “special occasions” don’t occur too frequently. That’s the 3-4 part.

Lastly, to avoid physical and psychological addiction, the recommendation is that everyone should abstain from drinking at least one day a week. That’s the 0.

Why a campaign on low-risk drinking?

More than 95% of Quebecers know the Éduc’alcool slogan La modération a bien meilleur goût/Moderation is always in good taste and the vast majority of them put the message into practise. They understand that moderation is not a punishment or limitation – it’s the key to enjoying yourself.


Unfortunately, with drinking rising consistently over the last ten years, the number of Quebecers who drink to excess is also increasing. It has therefore become important to quantify exactly what moderation means, and to promote those specific numbers.

Where do the guidelines come from and are they credible?

A national committee of experts, including Éduc’alcool’s senior science advisor, has developed specific guidelines for low-risk drinking. These have been reviewed by leading authorities from three continents and endorsed by an impressive number of public and private agencies. The guidelines are now considered the gold standard in the field.

On what basis were they developed?

Specific recommendations were developed for men and for women (yes, they are different). The guidelines also take into account both short-term and long-term problems that may result from excessive drinking.

OK, so those are the general guidelines. But aren’t there other situations when it’s better not to drink?

Absolutely. Drinking is not advised under a variety of circumstances, such as when:

  • you have important decisions to make;
  • you are engaged in a dangerous physical activity;
  • you are driving, operating machinery or working with mechanical or electrical equipment;
  • you are responsible for the safety of others;
  • you are taking medication that can interact with alcohol;
  • you have mental or physical health problems;
  • you have an alcohol dependency.

What about pregnant and nursing women?

While there appear to be only minimal risks related to very light drinking during pregnancy, no truly safe limit has been determined. It is therefore recommended that pregnant women and those wanting to become pregnant abstain from drinking. Nursing mothers should not drink before they nurse.

Tips for drinking moderately

  • Figure out your limits and stick to them.
  • Drink slowly.
  • Alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Eat before and while you drink.
  • Plan to drink in a safe environment.

What about kids?

Alcohol at an early age can interfere with physical and mental development, so it’s better to wait as long as possible before drinking. Teens who do begin to drink should do so only under parental supervision and have no more than two drinks at a time – and never more than twice a week.

Aren’t there some benefits to drinking?

Of course. But while alcohol may have some benefit for post-menopausal women and men over 40, it’s not a good idea to drink solely for that reason. Stores that sell alcohol are not pharmacies.

Does going by the numbers always prevent problems? What happens if you don’t stick to them?

2-3-4-0 is not a magic formula and it’s no substitute for good judgement. But every time you drink more than is recommended, the risks are increased. It’s a little like driving in winter without snow tires: you won’t necessarily have an accident, but it’s definitely more dangerous.

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